black sheep

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‘We speak figuratively of the one black sheep that is the cause of sorrow in a family; but in its reality it is regarded by the Sussex shepherd as an omen of good luck to his flock’ (Folk-Lore Record 1 (1878), 8). A number of other nineteenth and twentieth century references, from Somerset, Kent, and Derbyshire, for example, agree with this assessment of the black sheep, but others say the opposite. ‘It was unlucky for the first lamb dropped in lambing season to be black—black twins were more unlucky’ (Wiltshire, 1975: 56) and Charles Igglesden (c.1932: 105) writes the same for Shropshire, adding that the only way to avoid the bad luck is to cut their throats before they can ‘baa’.

Opie and Tatem, 1989: 29.

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